Facebook, Gmail, Skype face Russia ban under 'anti-terror' data snooping plan

Facebook, Gmail, Skype face Russia ban under 'anti-terror' data snooping plan

Summary: The Russian parliament's latest play could see major Western technology firms banned from the country if they don't store data on its soil — a move that would allow Russian authorities to easily snoop on user data.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in Moscow, Facebook is one of the companies at risk from the new Russian "anti-terrorism" law. (Image: Facebook)

Russia's parliament has passed a bill that could see Western technology firms barred from operating if they fail to store Russian data within the country.

The legislation would require Silicon Valley companies, such as Facebook, Google’s Gmail, and Microsoft-owned Skype, to relocate Russian customer data back onto Russian soil in order to allow authorities to legally acquire and inspect data at will.

Currently, Russian authorities have no powers to acquire data outside its borders, unless they submit a lawful mutual legal assistance request, which can be denied by that nation.

The "Information, Information Technologies and Protection of Information" amendment, part of the country's anti-terrorism laws, would give state security and intelligence services authority to access the data.

Should domestic Russian or foreign email, social networking, and instant messaging providers fail to provide access to six months' worth of data, they face being barred from operating in the country altogether.

The Russian Duma, the country's lower house, moved to adopt the law as of Tuesday following a successful third reading of the bill.

The law — which has yet to be ratified by Russian President Vladimir Putin — would force foreign companies to install servers and datacenters inside Russia in order to be compliant with the law. It would give the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB, formerly KGB) and other media and "mass communication" regulators greater control over the Russian Internet, and could see sites removed from the country's Internet register.

That would mean Internet providers on Russian soil could be forced to block access to sites and services, preventing them from being accessible to the general public.

It comes just two weeks after the European Union's highest court overturned similar controversial data retention laws, which had forced Internet providers to store data for up to two years for law enforcement and intelligence purposes. 

As a non-European Union member, Russia recognizes some Brussels-born legislation in order to maintain relations with the 28-member state bloc, but actively rejects others — not least in its anti-terrorism and data collection legislation. 

Bloggers, citizen activists affected

The law (translated) states that any site operating in the country does "not allow… for the dissemination of materials… publicly justifying terrorism and other extremist materials, and materials that promote pornography, violence and cruelty, and materials containing obscene language."

It comes less than two years after the Russian government implemented an Internet blacklist law under the guise of anti-pornography and extremist sites rhetoric, which allowed the Russian authorities to censor sites that would hamper political opponents of the ruling administration.

The Kremlin-supported bill, which passed in July 2012, forced any website falling foul of its strict anti-"extremist" law to remove content or face being added to the blacklist within 24 hours.

The "blacklist" law came at a time during the Pussy Riot furor, which landed the four members of the Russian punk band in prison for two years after they allegedly broke hooliganism laws, a criminal offense under the country's judicial system.

The band's videos, uploaded to YouTube and other sites, were blocked from access within the country following a Russian court's decision to classify the content as "extremist" material under the blacklist law.

Russia's Yandex Internet provider said in a statement (translated): "In our opinion, the adoption of the law will be another step towards the strengthening of state control over the Internet in Russia, which has a negative impact on the development industry."

The law can also be applied to bloggers, citizen journalists, and activists, according to the bill's text, which would also force them to "place on their website… their name and initials, the email address for sending him a legally meaningful message."

Increasing isolation

The Putin and Medvedev tag-team administration has since 2012 ramped up its Internet monitoring and censorship activities as it faces increased pressure from Western governments over claims of internal power struggles and political corruption — not least from opposition political groups who claim they are being oppressed by the federal government.

Russia, with a population of more than 145 million people, continues to face increasing isolation from the G8 group of countries over its annexation of Crimea after the former Ukrainian president fled the country amid uprising earlier this year. The annexation, decried as an unconstitutional move by the Ukrainian government, led the peninsula to become de-facto Russian territory, but was not legally recognized by the US or European authorities.

Russia's recent legislature has led privacy experts to warn of the restriction of freedom of speech, information, and politics of opposition members critical of the Kremlin and Putin regime.

In the past week alone, the founder of Russia's largest social network, VK.com, which has more than 100 million users, claimed he was fired, according to BBC News. He alleges that allies of Putin took over the site after he refused requests from the Russian government to censor posts on his site.

Pavel Durov has since fled Russia and says he has no plans to return. "Russia is now incompatible with Internet business at the moment," he told TechCrunch in an interview on Wednesday.

Russia's lower parliament has also banned swearing in films, plays, concerts, and shows, BBC News reports.  

Topics: Government, Privacy, Security, Social Enterprise

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  • Okay Mr. Snowden

    You know what, your new "friends" are doing all of what you are so PO'd about, but they just admit it and are ramping it up. Remember where you are, and what they were only a couple of decades ago.

    "Meet the new boss...!"
    • RE: Okay Mr. Snowden

      Good point, but remember...we wouldn't be having near as many discussions about internet abuse if it wasn't for Mr. Snowden. So you owe him your gratitude regardless of where or what he goes next...
      • I highly doubt that...

        ..Snowden only confirmed what most of us suspected was happening since the Patriot Act was signed into law.
        • RE: I highly doubt that...

          You doubt that we're having more conversations on the subject as a result of Snowden?
        • I highly doubt that...

          Calling BS on that remark as well as raising the BS Flag on the whole issue. Who is "us"? The depth of intrustion took most of the world by surprise and we're still not fully aware of what is truly going on because Snowden is not a treasury of information. Granted a treasure chest of info but far from the holy grail.

          Following the thread on this... I highly doubt that if Snowden were to return to the USA he'd avoid a prison stay.
    • Snowden

      Yes, because Snowden is living there by choice, I mean he has so many other options, like prison, or prison, or prison, or Russia. Hmm which would I chose...
      Koopa Troopa
      • Prison's not guaranteed

        He could still return to the US and fight the charges. As I've noted a number of times, Daniel Ellsberg was prosecuted for leaking the Pentagon papers and beat the rap. Snowden is in Russia because he doesn't want to risk prosecution, not because conviction is inevitable if he goes home. That makes him a garden variety fugitive, not a hero (no guts, no glory). It's not like US prosecutors never lose, as is the case in certain other countries.
        John L. Ries
        • How appealing

          You make it sound as if you'd love to visit a country where you had only 80% chance of ending behind bars. Or, more appropriately, you make it sound as if it is in Snowden's interest to be prosecuted by US law, or, more meaningfully, by ANY law.

          I would personally not visit ANY place where I'd risk a form of prosecution I could not avoid, if I could avoid it. Being prosecuted is not exactly my idea of ensuring personal safety. I do not recognise the authority of any human criminal court, anywhere, in any case.
          • "I do not recognise..."

            That would make you an outlaw, wouldn't it? If you don't recognize the jurisdiction of any human criminal court, anywhere, then you really should no expect any of them to punish any crimes committed against you. Effectively, you're placing yourself outside of the protection of any jurisdiction's laws.
            John L. Ries
        • Guaranteed for at least a while

          How long would it take for the trial to take place? A year? Two? Where will he be while both sides are preparing for the trial? In prison without bail (since he's already shown flight risk).
          This is of course assuming the patriot act wouldn't be used against him and hold him without trial for the rest of his life. He has already been called a terrorist and a traitor by authorities.
          Koopa Troopa
          • Then he picked his own jail, hasn't he?

            Julian Assange made a similar choice. Both are still confined and probably will be for years to come (and if either annoys his hosts, they don't have to keep him). Snowden has a larger space to walk around in, but it's not like Russia has an independent judiciary, or the only reason why anyone is ever prosecuted is because he's reasonably suspected of breaking the law.

            You only get to choose your actions, not their consequences.
            John L. Ries
          • In addition...

            ...if Snowden hadn't hopped on a flight to Hong Kong right before the first disclosures, he wouldn't have been deemed a flight risk.

            He chose to run away instead of fighting. Indeed, he's struck me as very risk averse since the whole episode began.
            John L. Ries
  • This is great news

    Nothing inspires people to rebel against an oppressive government like banning their social media.
    • RE: This is great news

      So true. The internet is by definition pro-democratic. Even though it can and is abused by dictators and poorly behaving democracies, a single camera video of an atrocity can start a revolution.
  • corporate complicity

    I for one will be watching which US companies cooperate with this thug dictatorship and which do not. If trust is so important to google, apple, and such, this is their moment to shine.
    • Reply to corporate complicity

      Yes. Many folded like spineless creeps before the demand for censorship in Communist China; it will be interesting how they react now.
      Time Agora
      • Folded (aka Compliant)

        And you think companies operating in the US don't subject themselves fully to US laws?

        Not saying all the world's security agencies operate the same... but US authorities are just as interested in ENSURING ACCESS as the rest.
        • RE: Folded (aka Compliant)

          Yup. Thanks to Snowden we all know this.
          • We all knew this long before Snowden

            All he did was put a target on the US while other countries continue business as usual. Thanks for nothing.
          • RE: We all knew this long before Snowden

            That's great that you're so smart, but no, we didn't all know this. But you're right...it's not really about Snowden. It's about our government being out of control. If it wasn't Snowden, it would have been somebody else.